Highlight of my Decade: Dinner w/ Charles McNair

Charles McNair; author of Picket's Charge and Pulitzer Prize nominated Land O' Goshen,

Charles McNair; author of Picket’s Charge and Land O’ Goshen,

Alright ya’ll, so this one is sooo off-topic. But it’s my blog and I’ll gloat of I want to.

Tonight I had dinner with Charles McNair, nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994 for his book Land O’ Goshen, and author of the 2013 release Pickett’s Charge. (See the review in my all-new Book Reviews section.)

How did a solitude seeking, cave-dwelling, lower life-form like yours truly pull-off this feat of incredible fortune? Well, not to be redundant, but fate was with me. (And that’s pretty cool, cause I gotta tell you, I’ve never even won a bingo game before and I’m generally of the opinion that I somehow offended Lady Luck coming out of the womb. She’s never shined on me. That is… until this evening.)

Mr. McNair was in Raleigh for a reading and book signing last night (Monday, 10/28/2013.) I had to work and couldn’t get there until the event was over and the poor man was walking out the door. I did manage to get a book signed, introduce myself, shake his hand, etc., and to my ‘shock&awe’, the guy honestly came across as one of the most charming, genteel, and generous fellows I’ve met in years. (A lot of authors can be real pompous, self-important prigs. Shocking, I know. Sorry to have to break the news.)

So… long story short, I dashed home after work last night and checked Mr. McNair’s website. I saw he had an event planned at a bookshop in Durham this evening (10/29/2013.) I knew it would be tight (I had to work till six.) But determined to go and see what I’d missed last night, I hauled ass up 540 to I-40 as fast as my 1990 Honda Civic would propel me (not particularly fast at all), and I made it through the doors at the bitter stroke of 7:05 P.M. (five minutes late, dammit!)

The crowd was small, but I knew it would be given Durham’s zip code (a suburb of New Jersey.) They don’t read much there. Despite the Gothic Walls dripping with ivy, the University lost its intellectual luster decades ago. Now it’s just a clearing house for over-priced bio-technical degrees and MBAs on their way to Wall Street. You want to find a university town that still feels like a university town, go to Charlottesville – or Chapel Hill.

But I digress.

So Mr. McNair blessed us with a very personalized reading of two chapters from Pickett’s Charge, his new book about the last surviving Confederate Veteran; 114 year-old Alabama native, Threadgill Pickett, who is on a final, vendetta-charged mission to hunt down and destroy the last surviving Union Soldier, who is living it up in Bangor Maine. (A long way from Threadgill’s Mobile, Alabama rest home.) Check out my upcoming review for more on the book.

After the reading, Mr. McNair invited his small audience to join him on 9th Street for a beer. Someone suggested dinner, which sounded great to me since I had not eaten a crumb since my bacon, egg & cheese, Bojangles biscuit this morning at 10:00 in the morning (which is roughly Oh-Dark-Thirty to me.) Except I realized I was in Durham (New Jersey), and I knew that there ain’t no getting no cheap grub in Durham. Especially not on 9th Street. I was secretly wishing I’d brought a bologna sandwich with me. I could do like I did when I was in college and sit outside on the sidewalk and eat it while everybody else went in. Then join up again when they all came out, fat and flushed.

Then I thought again – I may never, EVER, in my whole life get to sit down at table with a man who actually got tapped for the Pulitzer Prize list. I’m worried about $20.00? (That’s four hours’ work, at minimum wage, which is the top dollar I can command these days.) Fuck it. Fuck it! FUCK IT!

We marched down to Blue Corn on 9th Street. I got my money’s worth – and I’m not talking about the food.

We (the folks who accepted Mr. McNair’s invitation) talked about books, authors, the history of Durham, racism, Shelby Foote (guess who brought that topic up?) I learned that Umberto Eco was dead (truly I did not know. I’m outta touch.) I was encouraged to write and follow that goal, taking advantage of whatever means available to me (including self-publishing, the crowd-funding model, or whatever.)

And hopefully Mr. McNair made some contacts at Duke that will help him sell a few books and get them in the library there too. (God knows, they have the money.)

I don’t know when was the last time I went out to dinner with anyone – much less perfect strangers. It’s been years. Many years. (And those days were painful, forced, corporate entertainments that were never my idea; absolutely coerced events that I never would have participated in, had I had a choice.) Tonight was sheer, self-indulgent, enjoyment. I feel guilty I had such a good time. Crossing 9th street back to my car, I was walking on clouds.

But wait, it gets better…

So I sent Mr. McNair a thank you note via email this evening (Yes! That Yellowhammer SOB gave me his email address! Rascal!)

And here’s what he sent back:

“Thank you so for the kindness and attention and companionship. It humbled me that you came all the way from Raleigh to this event. I’m grateful. In return, you have an assignment for the rest of this week – two typed double-spaced pp of fiction per day. No excuses. Let me hear from you a week from tonight. Cheers.”

My one line response:

“I’ll take that bait.”

So… ya’ll will have to pardon my silence the rest of the week, and the Merioneth Historical and Records Society will have to wait. I have work to do.

The night is young.

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